Champion Hildebrand and Top Rookie Cameron Share the Spoils at Road America
Elkhart Lake, Wis. (September 24, 2006) -- The Florida-based Cape Motorsports team completed a clean sweep of this year's Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship at Road America. Dane Cameron clinched the Greg Moore Rookie of Year honors by virtue of a finely judged victory -- his second of the year -- in appallingly wet conditions on Saturday, while already-crowned champion J.R. Hildebrand bounced back from a rare error in the opening race to claim another convincing victory -- his 12th in just 14 races -- on Sunday afternoon.
"I can't say enough about this team," said Hildebrand, 18, from Sausalito, Calif. "They've just done an awesome job all year long and I can't thank them enough for all the hard work they've put in."
Hildebrand took the pole on Friday, his 10th of the season aboard the #2 Formotion/Spy Optics/Mockett.com Van Diemen, and set off confidently into the lead on Saturday afternoon in the pouring rain. The gifted youngster led by almost 10 full seconds at the end of the first four-mile lap, but soon afterward made a mistake at the treacherous Turn Five and fell almost to the back of the pack.
Cameron took up the running in his #19 Finlay Motorsports/Jim Russell Racing School/Red Line Oil Van Diemen and pulled out a handy advantage before the race finished under a full-course caution.
"That was a lot of fun," said Cameron, 17, from Sonoma, Calif. "After J.R. spun out, I tried to play it a little conservative but still run a good pace. I just didn't want to make any mistakes."
Steve Welk, from Elkhart Lake, Wis., made a welcome return to the series after a two-year absence and drove superbly to finish second for the locally-based Arms Up Motorsports team. Ricardo Vassmer, from Caracas, Venezuela, claimed the final podium position in his #25 Meridiano Television/JDC Motorsports Van Diemen.
Cameron started from the pole for Round 14, directly after a thrilling Champ Car World Series event on Sunday afternoon, in picture-perfect conditions, but immediately came under intense pressure from impressive series debutant Pat Barrett. The 17-year-old from Los Osos, Calif., took the lead in the G.FRO team's #33 G-Pro Camera/Russell Racing/Kolliner-Long Gallery Van Diemen on Lap 2, following a bold maneuver in Turn Five, but it wasn't long before Hildebrand, who had started 13th, came charging through the pack and onto Barrett's tail.
One lap later, Hildebrand made his move for the lead under braking for Turn Eight, and never looked back.
"I just put my head down, made some moves and was able to pull away," related Hildebrand calmly after taking the checkered flag some 10.673 seconds clear. "It was a great way to end the season."
Cameron slipped off the road in Turn Three, leaving Barrett and top Cooper Masters contender (for drivers over 35 years of age) Jason Byers, from Livonia. Mich., to battle it out for second. The pair exchanged places several times before Barrett made a mistake at Canada Corner and handed the runner-up placing to Byers, who secured his fourth podium finish of the season in his #28 Young Supply Company/St. Clair Motorsports Van Diemen.
"Pat and I had a nice little race going on," said Byers. "If he hadn't gone a little wide on one turn I think it would probably have gone down to the wire."
Welk again drove well to snare his second podium finish in as many days.
"It's very cool to be on the podium here at home," said Welk, "especially after being out of the car for two years."
Cole Morgan, from Lighthouse Point, Fla., underscored his dominance of the Cooper Gold Cup category (for older, SCCA-spec Formula Continental cars) by taking his 11th win of the season on Saturday. Unfortunately, his hopes of maintaining an unbeaten record this year went by the wayside on Sunday when, shortly after taking the lead, he ran a little wide at Canada Corner and the engine in his #8 Morgan Homes/Lee Racing/St. Clair Motorsports Van Diemen abruptly quit.
Morgan's misfortune played into the hands of Brian Tomasi, from Elgin, Ill., who finished 13th overall in the #96 RMX/Subway/Nova Communications Van Diemen and scooped the Gold Cup honors following an enthralling tussle with Davenport, Iowa's Jim Victor in another Arms Up Motorsports Van Diemen.